Tag Archives: Cynon Valley Leader

A Letter to the Editor 1959

In which The Author’s friend opens a can of worms

I made it to Aberdare Library quite late on Friday afternoon. I’d been captured by the world and his wife on the way into town, queued behind assorted doddering coffin-dodgers in the Post Office, and then waited ages to be seen in the Jobcentre.
When I finally got to the Reference Section, Denise said she had something for me.
My old friend Steven Graham took early retirement from the library last summer, after working there for as long as I can remember (mid-1980s). Since then I’ve seen him at least once a week, as he’s a keen historian and usually has a project or two on the go. (Sound familiar, anyone…?)
While looking through old copies of the Aberdare Leader, Steven had turned up a letter from 28 November 1959.
I hadn’t been born, so I’ve got no recollection of this particular controversy. As far as I can tell, plans had been tabled to redevelop a large area of the town centre by demolishing hundreds of the Victorian houses, completely redrawing the street plan which Geoff and I have been researching for months. It looks as though Steven has stumbled upon something else to mention in our book when (if?) it sees the light of day.
Anyway, Dad had clearly decided to contribute his two penn’orth to the debate. Steven had taken a scan, printed it out, and very kindly left it behind the counter for me.
Dad had only just turned 31 when he wrote this. He was working in Aberdare town centre, with his finger on the pulse of community life, and was clearly as disillusioned with the local Labour Party then as I am (and many other people are) now.
Two decades after this letter,Dad was a member of Cynon Valley Borough Council; at about the same time, one of his colleagues had been elected under the Protectionist banner. Dad had initially been a member of Plaid Cymru, before striking out as an Independent candidate and retaining his seat next time out.
I’ve recently nailed my colours to the Plaid Cymru mast. After voting for them several times, helping my friends out with leafletting, and talking up the local candidate whenever the chance arises, I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth is. Dad was in his mid-50s when he first stood for the council. It’s crossed my mind a few times lately, too. There’s a long history of families getting involved in local politics around here. Maybe next time, eh?
Other aspects of community life remain as constant as the ebb and flow of the tides. The Aberdare Leader has changed its name, shrunk to a tabloid, gone full-colour, and relocated its base of operations to Cardiff. Even so, there’s a typo in the published version of Dad’s letter. Plus ça change, as they say across the Channel…
Sir: I read with interest the news story in the “Leader” last week headed “Labour to hit back at Protectionists” and found myself what the ultimate fate of our town will be if the Aberdare Labour Group continue to be the majority group on our Council.
I say the “Aberdare Labour Group” deliberately because I cannot believe that their policies are the same as those of the National Labour Party which, I am sure, would not intentionally inflict anxiety on whole towns with devastating bombshells like our infamous Town Plan.
The outlook of our local “Group” is so small that a member of the Trades and Labour Council states quite clearly that the “Town Plan issue has now faded.” May I ask if it is not true that the only place where it has “faded” is the Housing Minister’s office, from where, upon completion of the result of the public inquiry, it can be brought back out and at the Minister’s discretion, be either scrapped or implemented?
Make no mistake, the danger is as grave now as ever and far too many people in Aberdare realise it and will not again be fooled by misleading election leaflets.
I am afraid the tendency among our Labour councillors is to try to present the Protectionists as some kind as bogey-men out to sabotage Socialism, whereas, in fact, some of our Protectionist councillors are, and always have been, staunch Socialists and equally staunch democrats, who value the right of the individual to live in his own home free from all fears.
I am sure the Protectionists will welcome the fact that the Labour Group are to hit back, as, quite probably, a great many more faults which the people of Aberdare have the right to know about will be brought to light.
As to the result of the fight, we must wait and see, but I recall that during the last three years, when fights have taken place, ten stalwart champions of the Aberdare Labour Party have hit the canvass [sic] for the full count!
Finally, I note that the Trades and Labour Council are contemplating holding a public meeting and, as in the case of another well-remembered public meeting [check facts – Ed.], the venue is to be the Coliseum.
An admirable choice because, apart from being a very fine hall, it has a magnificent stage curtain which the people who attended that other public meeting will remember, can be dropped very quickly if things get too hot for the speakers!
Yours, etc.,
Meirion Street, Trecynon.

Profiling the Present

In which The Author asks for your help

As my regular readers will know, nearly thirty years ago I worked on a research project called the Cynon Valley Profile. We took countless photographs, archived no end of documents and news cuttings, and conducted interviews and vox pops covering most aspects of life in our little part of South Wales. We were picking up (after an interval of several years) where two notable individuals had broken off.
W. W. Price (1873-1967) was a schoolteacher who spent all his spare time and his long retirement in documenting the history of the local area. He amassed some 40,000 cards of genealogical data, boxes and boxes of transcripts and documents, and was published on many occasions. The research room at Aberdare Library is named after him.
Rev R. Ivor Parry (1908-75) was the minister of Siloa Chapel, although he trained as a historian. He wrote a regular column in the Aberdare Leader and also gathered a large archive of cuttings and other documents.
That was pretty much where we came in. During the two years of the Cynon Valley Profile we collected anything we could get our hands on: theatre programmes, posters for local shows, gig flyers… you name it! In fact, Noel Rencontre’s election leaflet, which I showed you in Underground, Overground, Wombling Free, was almost certainly part of our collection.
I’m writing this today because after September 1987, when the Cynon Valley Profile ended, History came to a virtual standstill. I’m not talking about Francis Fukuyama’s famous (and largely discredited) thesis about the triumph of liberal democracy. I’m talking about the history of the Cynon Valley. Let me explain…
The Aberdare Leader on microfilm is only indexed as far as the 1930s; that occupies a deep drawer of 5″ x 3″ cards in the Reference Library. The last ten years or so are indexed on the computer. Between the 1930s and the present millennium falls the shadow.
There are numerous hardback exercise books in the W. W. Price Room, with relevant cuttings from the regional papers, as well as the rare occasions when the Cynon Valley came to the attention of the wider world. They’re catalogued as well, but how much of the life of our communities actually makes the papers?
Here’s one example of a news story which is of great importance to the cultural life of our country. I’ve mentioned it a few times already in this blog. On 11 July 1984 the leading anarcho-punk band Crass played at the Coliseum in Trecynon. It turned out to be their last ever gig. It was only the second ‘proper’ gig I’d been to – and it changed my life, as well as the lives of many people I know now. I don’t think it’s documented anywhere, apart from this brief flurry of activity in our local paper:




If you want to know anything about Crass’s final gig, this is pretty much the extent of what you’ll find. You won’t find this article or these photos online anywhere else, as far as I know. In spite of what you may have seen in US crime thrillers, you can’t just type the relevant words into a search engine and see newspaper stories from the 1980s on your computer screen in the blink of an eye. In the 1980s, there were no websites. You’re stuck with ploughing through the microfilms, or nothing.
Take a dispassionate look at your local paper in the present century. (Actually, I’ve saved you the trouble. Have a look at A Pressing Problem, in which I dissect a representative issue of our local rag and lay the specimen out for your delectation and reading pleasure.) Is your paper any different, in this age of electronic news-gathering and centralised churnalism? Does it really allow you to take the pulse of your community, to feel the lifeblood coursing through its veins? Where are the reports about the OAP committes, the PTA meetings, the am-dram musical performances, the community council notes, and all the other ephemera which go to make up the full, rounded picture of the town where you live?
The answer is simple: they’re nowhere.
They don’t get a mention at all, unless (as with our local rag) they appear in the Local Correspondents’ columns. Even when they do merit the odd couple of column-centimetres, they don’t get indexed. We’ve built ourselves a Memory Hole of gigantic proportions, down which an entire culture is disappearing as we speak.
At the moment, I’m surrounded by century-old Building Club minute books, and old maps showing Aberdare before half of the town centre was even built. It’s all good background to the Street Names Project, saved by the people who archived them decades ago. They didn’t know I’d be here, today, in this particular place, doing the research – but they saved these valuable items, just in case…
Now picture someone a century and a half down the line, trying to reconstruct (say) the cultural scene in Aberdare in the first decade of the millennium. He or she could quite reasonably conclude that it consisted solely of Stereophonics and countless Frank Vickery plays, interspersed with the occasional Shirley Bassey tribute act and the occasional young rock band who released their own music online. My other embryonic project will try and redress the balance in due course, but as far as the local archives are concerned, there’ll be nothing else for future historians to draw on.
That applies to every other aspect of modern life, too. The Internet will be around forever, but individual web pages come and go. There is a list of the old pubs of Aberdare and District in a book just around the corner from where I’m sitting at the moment, but it doesn’t appear anywhere online. A few years ago, apparently, it did. Then the money ran out or the server crashed, and that was the end of that. Fun while it lasted, like my old MySpace page.
That’s why I’m making this appeal today. If you’re a member of a band, a society, a musical group, a PTA, a sports team – in fact, if you’re involved with a local club or association of any kind – we need your help to profile the present.
(Quite by coincidence, Denise and Paula are currently trying to find some information about St Margaret’s RC School in Aberdare. Not the new school off Ty Fry, mind you – the old school, where a block of new houses have been built. I’ve made a mental note to ask my friend Kayleigh L., who’s the school secretary, if they’ve got any archive material of their own. If Denis had still been with us, we’d probably have been sorted, as he was on the board of governors. This is exactly the sort of thing that family history researchers and local historians are after. The librarians deal with enquiries like this all the time, every day, week in and week out. At the moment, Paula’s just blindly searching through the microfilms to see if something turns up. It’s a rather scattershot approach to what should be a fairly easy enquiry, isn’t it?)
As you can see, Aberdare Library would appreciate any contributions to their archives. Pretty much anything is grist to the mill here. You never know who’s going to walk in through the doors in fifty years’ time and ask to see a programme for Fiddler on the Roof, as performed by the Colstars in the Coliseum in 200x (insert date here – Ed.) Denise Price in the Reference Library would be grateful for anything they can add to the local collection. If you don’t want to donate it, a photocopy will be fine. Just please let them have a copy.
I daresay you’ve got a library in your neck of the woods which is in a similar situation (always assuming it hasn’t closed entirely, of course!) I’m sure your librarian would appreciate any donations to their archives, for exactly the reasons I’ve outlined.
Please spread the word about this, as it’s a really worthwhile project, and I’m sure we can count on your support. You can share this entry by several means, just by using the buttons at the foot of the page. If you don’t want to share it, then good old Word Of Mouth will do just fine.
On behalf of researchers everywhere, may I thank you in advance for your help.